As on any other day, she got up at the sound of her phone’s shriek alarm. 6:45. But unlike other days, instead of jumping out of bed, examining her window for new flowers, loading the washing machine, and packing lunch for herself and the husband, she decided to sleep in for an extra few minutes. An unexplained fatigue swept over her in spite of getting a good night’s sleep, and she dozed off again.
She got up just in time to have a quick shower and dash off to catch the 7:50. She reached a few seconds later than usual, and there were no seats left the in small, newly painted first class compartment in the middle of the train. She leaned against the wall dividing her elite fellow-commuters from the bhajan-singing, general compartment. The strong smell of the sonchafa in a middle-aged co-operative banker woman’s hair made her stomach turn. She turned her face away and looked out at the passing platform and raised her head skyward, anticipating the freshness of the blue and white after the dull station ceiling. As the train gathered speed, the smell of cheap, fresh oil paint drifted in her direction, and weirdly, it soothed her senses. One hand hanging on to the swinging handle from the train’s ceiling, she pressed the center of her iPod with the other, and closed her eyes.
Thirty minutes later, she switched on her computer at work and went to the pantry to make tea, knowing fully well that she felt too sick to have any. But, she made it anyway. She came back to her desk and scanned through the sea of e-mails. “Should remember to tell IT to check the spam filters—I’m getting more Viagra mails than real ones,” she made a mental note. As she was flagging the important mails and checking her calendar, she realized how acrid her mouth felt. She tried to remember what she’d eaten for dinner the previous night, but was blank. By lunch time, she was ravenously hungry—she ordered a Sub and devoured it in no time. She skipped her customary afternoon filter coffee, though, leaving the freshly brewed liquid in the steel filter for colleagues to enjoy. Maybe it was because she hadn’t had a drop of caffeine in her body since morning, but she felt incredibly drowsy again. She put her head down on the desk, and felt a strange sinking feeling. Shocked at the strange feeling, she got up with a start. But her eyelids felt heavy again, and she decided to ignore the sinking and just rest for a while. By 4:30, she was too tired to do constructive work, and the sinking feeling wasn’t showing signs of going away. She decided to call it a day.
The walk to the station, a mere two minutes away, and the climb up the stairs to the platform seemed to take ages today. She usually enjoyed this short walk, happily feeling part of a zealously working people, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of a routine Mumbai life—inspirations for stories that she instantly formed in her head and never wrote. Today, all she could think of was a window seat she could sink in. When she climbed on to the waiting train, her favorite window seat on the left was taken by an eager college-going girl, excitedly talking over her cell phone. As luck would have it, just before the train pushed itself into motion, the college girl jumped out and ran toward a scrawny boy about her age—a boyfriend surprising her with a sudden appearance, perhaps. When the train pulled out of the station, how she hailed an auto rickshaw and got home, she doesn’t remember even today.
At home, she turned on the T.V. just to have a few voices fill the house, threw open the curtains and windows, and poured herself a glass of water. The rose and jasmine buds she’d not scrutinized in the morning were now blooming. She let out a sigh of quiet happiness. Changing into her kaaftan, she sank on the sofa, blankly watching the mindless movements on the T.V. And then, she suddenly remembered—she was three days late. Should she take it again? But it was always unfaithful—always marking another failure.
She decided to take it after all—not because she was hopeful, but because she thought she’d rather waste the last kit and get it over with, never to buy one again. On a normal day, she would have sat right next to it, waiting eagerly for the two minutes to be up. Today, she simply walked back to the sofa and fell asleep, confident that the test would be negative again. She got up fifteen minutes later, awoken by the discomfort of her position. She’d forgotten all about the test by now. She discovered it as she bent over the side table of her bedroom to pick up the book she was reading these days. She saw it and was taken aback. For a second, she thought she was still asleep. Then, she realized she wasn’t wearing her glasses. She dashed back to the sofa where they’d dropped off, and barely placing them on her nose, she sprinted back to the bedroom. She wasn’t asleep, and this time she had her glasses on—and the result was the same as it had been merely seconds ago. Two sticks. Could this be for real? F***, f***, f***! It was! She jumped once, and then stopped herself laughing at the thought that she probably shouldn’t be jumping now. She ran to the dark, neglected shrine in the house, mumbled a thank you, and began putting on her jeans—halfway through, she went to the study to write a note. She scribbled a few words on a Chimanlal’s card, her hand trembling from excitement. Stuffing it in her pocket with loose change, she zipped up and pulled over a tee shirt hung out to dry, still warm from the afternoon sun. She forgot to switch off the lights and the T.V. She forgot to carry the house keys; she almost forgot to wear her sandals.
On the street below, people were trying to hail gas station-bound auto rickshaws. She knew there was no point in waiting. She began walking toward her husband’s office—half-running in excitement, and then reminding herself to slow down. Finally, she got one to stop and hopped in. It took her a second to remember where she really wanted to go. When the rickshaw driver turned the meter, she pulled out the card she’d scribbled and read it again, imagining the look on her husband’s face as he read it.
“Baba, I’m on my way,” it said.